Meet Big Ted: A multi-racial heartthrob living in Los Angeles. Big Ted’s chiseled body and strikingly handsome face could easily land on the pages of a popular fitness magazine, but instead he runs a successful graphic design company out of his home office in Studio City. A self-described ambitious boy looking for fun, Big Ted has an active social life and outdoorsy hobbies. He is also popular on the gay dating (more like “dating”) app Grindr. But the one thing getting in Big Ted’s way is Big Ted himself. Behind that alluring smile and boyish charm, Big Ted is really a 5’4, 130 lbs. single woman. Big Ted is a big fat lie.
It all started when my friend and co-worker, Andrew, went into a rant about the app, saying, “Dating is hard, and apps like that make it worse, especially for gay men. It’s like trying to buy a big screen TV on Black Friday.” Andrew often accused me of being out of touch with dating life. I had been in a relationship for much of our friendship and anytime he brought up his dating mishaps, I was glib; fervently disagreeing with his assertion that dating was hard. He’d respond with “You don’t get it, you’re in a relationship and you’re a straight woman.” At the time of his Grindr rant, I had just ended a five-year relationship, and started dating a man named Tom. Despite my stance that dating was fun, I was wrought with anxiety about it, something I could never admit to Andrew.
Tom was nothing like the boys I had fallen in love with in the past. He was older and confident. He took pleasure in grown up things like executing the perfect steak and raising crops in his urban garden. I was ill equipped to date a man like this, but now that I was single, I was determined to prove Andrew wrong on all fronts. Dating was, in fact, easy as both a woman and a gay man; and apps like Grindr make it more fun for gay men, if you have the right attitude. And I had a great attitude.
I spent the afternoon Googling photographs for my Grindr profile. I settled on a picture of a racially ambiguous male model. He was shirtless, his jeans un-buttoned at the navel. His lips were puckered and his smoky eyes glared into the camera as if to say, “I get you.” With a fake picture and me as his ghostwriter, Big Ted was launched into the world of gay cyber dating.
The unspoken rules of dating on Grindr were clear: you can’t ask for pictures without having your own to trade. So, using my MacGyver like thinking, I began to recycle pictures from other men to use as my own. Like a game of erotic Pokémon, I spent hours trading pictures of abs, biceps and genitals. I was determined to catch them all.
After about four days on Grindr, I had seen more penises than an urologist. Up until then, I thought there was one basic model of the penis, with a few size and surfacing variations. I knew some wore sweaters in the form of foreskin, but that was it. Grindr taught me that male genitalia are like snowflakes, unique in their own way. Some are large, regal and command attention, like a General in the Army. Other penises are dumpy with low self-esteem. I even saw one that looked like Snooki from Jersey Shore, fake tan and Bump-It included.
During our lunch breaks at work, I’d hold court with Andrew and my other co-workers, sharing my Grindr adventures and any relevant pictures. The attention was intoxicating and only encouraged me to sign onto Grindr more often. Wherever I went, Big Ted followed: meetings, bathroom breaks, dinner with friends.
I became drunk with Big Ted’s power. He was designed to be in the upper echelon of hotness. I could demand things from the men on Grindr, and they would oblige because of how good-looking he was. I never experienced this sort of authority as a woman. For five glorious months, Big Ted was the King of Peen, and I wielded his 10-inch sword at any gay man that dare message him.
The lines between me and Big Ted began to blur. I started confessing things about my real life: like how I had experienced a bad breakup that left me feeling unlovable. It was cathartic to share these intimate feelings with men I hardly knew. Yes, penis pictures were being exchanged by the dozens like currency in The New York Stock Exchange, but we were building friendships too.
One night, balls-deep in conversation as Big Ted, I got a text from Tom. He wanted to know how my evening was going. I responded the way Big Ted would: with a salacious sext that offered my body like a free sample at Costco. I could see the three little iPhone dots hovering in the text message for what felt like 10 embarrassing minutes. This was the part where a guy would send Big Ted several nude pictures and an address with no hesitation. Instead, Tom responded, “How about you come over and I make you dinner?”
I sat at the counter as Tom moved about the kitchen explaining the intricate details involved in cooking the perfect steak. He took me to his garden, and using a small pocket flashlight guided me through aisles of cilantro, romaine lettuce and kale. He kneeled down, and tore a ripe bunch gently from the ground. He was drenched in darkness with only the small beam from the pocket flashlight illuminating his eyes and mouth. What a beautiful creature, I thought. After only seeing dozens of penis pictures through Grindr, I had forgotten about the other parts of a man’s body.
We went back inside and he began to rinse the kale under the sink. Soon, he created the most beautiful dish I had ever seen. He placed the plate down in front of me and took my face in his grasp, his hands still damp from the sink. He kissed my mouth gently as if placing the period on a sentence. I thought back to my sext and felt a rush of embarrassment. Here was a man, lovingly cooking me a meal and I didn’t know how to enjoy it. I wanted to recoil into my Grindr cocoon of penis pics and sassy one-liners.
After that night, I avoided Tom’s invitations to go out the same way Big Ted avoided actually meeting any of the men on Grindr: by telling him I had to work late. If I wasn’t Big Ted, I had no idea who I was. Big Ted never failed to have a witty retort, or charming line. Big Ted was fun and easy. Dating was not.
Eventually my co-workers grew weary of my Grindr tales, punctuating my stories with subdued laughter. Their questions became more serious, things like: “Do you think you’re leading these men on?” and “How will you deal with the consequences if these men find out?” I would avoid the questions and they’d change the subject all together, asking how things were going with Tom. I avoided that question too.
I tried to sign onto Grindr once more but the penis Pokémon that brought me so much joy lost its magic. I realized I was coping with the loss of my relationship by trivializing dating into a calculated exchange of naked photos with strangers, desensitizing myself to it. By trading these intimate photos, I was able to avoid intimacy altogether.
Intimacy is scary. It’s like inviting someone over to your place before you’ve had time to clear up the invisible corners of stuff. I didn’t let Tom see my invisible corners, and in affect I hid all of me. The good parts too.
I finally agreed to meet Tom for coffee after a month of avoiding him. As we sat sipping our house blend from porcelain mugs, I apologized. I admitted that I was terrified of dating. I told him I felt like I had nothing to offer a guy like him. For the first time in five months, we shared our insecurities with each other. Tom was recovering from a bad break-up too. I asked him if he believed people like us could date again after being broken in half by love. He laughed at how dramatic I was being and with certainty said, “Of course! Love isn’t neat or clean. Love is about taking the pieces of who you are, good or bad, and handing them to someone and hoping you like something about the way your pieces fit into theirs.”
Tom’s words stuck with me on my drive home, and I promised myself I would try to give all of who I am to anyone I met. And if they didn’t like it, it was ok. With that revelation, I deleted my Grindr profile and laid Big Ted to rest in the cyber graveyard in the sky. Big Ted is finally laid to rest, along with some of my insecurities and a whole slew of penises. Oh so many penises.
- What Your Taste in Music Says About You on a Date
- 16 Excellent Retorts to the Question, “Why Are You Still Single?”
- Stop Telling Single Women They’re ‘Fabulous’
- Tinder Advice for a Straight Woman from a Gay Grindr Fan